We’re about to learn more about Va.

by DG Martin

What do North Carolinians know about Virginia politics?

Given the long border between the two states, the fact that the first permanent European settlers came to our state by way of Virginia, the similar agricultural and manufacturing traditions and the easy access between the two states on I-85, I-95 and US 17, you would think that we would learn a lot from each other.

But so far as I know the only contribution to our politics from our neighbor to the immediate north is the lottery. Some legislators who originally opposed the North Carolina lottery came to believe that the only way to stop the outflow of North Carolina money to Virginia was to start our own gambling games.

Other than the lottery, I can’t think of anything else most of us know about their politics.

But that may change.

It has to do with presidential politics.

No president has been elected from either of these two states since before the Civil War, unless you count Woodrow Wilson, who was born in Virginia and spent a little time in North Carolina while he was growing up. (Wilson was president of Princeton University and governor of New Jersey before he ran for president.)

But in the time leading up to the 2008 presidential elections Virginia and North Carolina may be on center stage. While Hillary Clinton is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination today, some party leaders don’t think she can win. They are looking for a candidate who can stop her from winning the nomination and then lead the party to victory in November 2008.

Many of these leaders will tell you that recent history shows that the Democrats have the best chance of winning if they pick a candidate from the South. Since the 1960 election of John Kennedy, they will tell you, the only Democratic victories have come when Southerners ‘— namely Johnson, Carter and Clinton ‘— have led the ticket. And Gore, too, they may remind us, actually won the popular vote when he ran in 2000.

Who are the Democratic Southerners who could beat Mrs. Clinton for the nomination and lead the party to victory? At the top of list are North Carolina’s John Edwards and Virginia’s former governor, Mark Warner.

North Carolinians know a lot about Edwards, their former senator and vice-presidential candidate. But since North Carolinians do not keep up with Virginia politics they know little about their neighbor, Mark Warner.

Those who want to measure Virginia’s competition for North Carolina’s ‘“favorite son’” are going to have to learn more about Mark Warner and Virginia politics. The May 2006 issue of the Atlantic magazine helps. Atlantic’s contributing editor Paul Starobin’s profile shows why Warner may be a tough competitor for Edwards to win the ‘“anybody but Hillary’” contest.

Here are some of Warner’s strong points, according to Starobin:

1. Warner concluded his term as governor with an 80 percent approval rating, which Starobin writes, ‘“explains some of the current enthusiasm’” for him.

2. He is wealthy. Starobin reports that he made more than $150 million in private business before running for governor.

3. More important than his personal fortune is the entrepreneurial experience and reputation he gained from his business ventures in the cellular-license brokerage business. ‘“His pragmatism and deal-closing abilities can only help him as he seeks the support of the Democratic Party’s notoriously heterodox interest group leaders.’”

4. As a fiscal conservative, he has demonstrated the ability to raise money and support from independents and Republicans.

These characteristics may make him a tough competitor for Edwards.

But, as we well know, Edwards has great strengths of his own, including a very important one in an area where Warner is weak. Starobin writes, ‘“Warner can seem wooden in his public appearances.’”

‘“I’m not a naturally gifted speaker,’” Warner told him.

North Carolinians know that Edwards is a very gifted speaker whose appearances can draw crowds and inspire them.

With Democrats who are nostalgic for the speaking talents of Bill Clinton, Edwards has a big edge.

If an Edwards-Warner contest takes shape, there is only one thing for sure.

North Carolinians will learn a whole lot more about Virginia and its politics than they know today.